Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light, set on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks in 1906, is a coming of age story of would be writer, Mattie Gokey, who unravels a murder mystery (the real-life case involving Grace Brown and Chester Gillette, which was also the murder that on which Dreiser based his masterful “An American Tragedy”) and learns that the most important promise is the one you make to yourself. Mattie is an engaging narrator. A lover of words and romantic at heart, she always tries to do the right thing by her family and friends, even if that means she suffers. A new teacher in town encourages Mattie to apply to Barnard College and when she is accepted on full-scholarship, Mattie must decide whether to honor the promise she made to her mother or to follow her heart’s desire.
I grew up in the Adirondacks and am touched at how well this author has established sense of place and at how well she understands the people who live there. While this book is classified as young adult, I believe it will appeal to other adults, as it did to me.